After nights spent chasing the dollar and the dream, passengers often receive solace from the short-lived seclusion on their lonesome journey home. They kiss The Sandman’s lips and slyly breathe in his warm breath that burns their eyelids shut, allowing them to fall into a temporary slumber–shallow enough that they instinctively wake up just as they arrive at their stop, yet deep enough to forget where they are in that split-second when they first come to. It’s a talent I like to think belongs exclusively to New Yorkers.
It was four hours past midnight on a bitterly cold night in February. I sat inside of an iron horse that was traveling to Upper Manhattan through the underground tunnels that were designated specifically for the A train nearly a century ago. My droopy eyes tried to prepare for bed after a tireless night at work…but to no avail.
The train car was nearly deserted, save for a drunken couple sitting across from me whose best days were dust in the wind. The man was stumbling down on memory lane, picking at the fluorescent memories of the glorious fist fights he once had as a young man; with a boastful disposition, he used them as examples of how he would have vanquished a man at a bar. His wife was unamused.
Soon the train, which had been running locally, came to a halt at the 86th Street subway station due to a passenger who had fallen ill. The collective groan from Gotham’s insensitive, lowlife scum — which includes this handsome, young devil whose words you’re apprehensively digesting — was heard echoing from the first subway car on down to the last.
A few minutes would pass before New York’s parasites would crawl out of their individual train cars, neither asking nor suggesting, but callously demanding for the man to be thrown onto the subway platform so that we could all go home.
One particular young lady, whose appearance screamed hype beast, let it be known that she was trying to get home as quickly as possible because she had some pussy waiting for her. In agreement, the drunken degenerate who sat across from me sobered up just enough to jump out of his seat, onto the platform, to make a similar announcement. “Hell yeah, I’m trying to go home to fuck my wife,” he yelled. I’ve never seen so much regret on a woman’s face regarding the man she chose to marry until that night.
Despite the raucous complaints and grievances, it soon became evident that the passenger, who was originally thought to have fainted, was possibly dying. Many riders, including myself, either out of curiosity, confusion, utility, or the cynical purpose of self-entertainment, gathered in and around the subway car that held the pale, middle-aged man who had apparently just suffered a heart attack.
Three men surrounded the body, performing CPR before the EMT’s arrival. An onlooker standing outside of the subway car watched the action from the window and asked if the man was breathing, before an older gentleman interrupted by mentioning that there was a hospital upstairs, outside of the subway station. The menacing groans and disgruntled faces were now replaced with concern, overwhelming fear, and bewilderment. Those of us who were exhausted and sleeping were now energized and wide-awake.
The grim scene was met with a moment of optimism when the EMT’s arrived; ready to save the man’s life, like a scene from a television drama, scripted with a happy ending. That moment was short-lived and the happy ending wasn’t written into this episode of life.
Shortly after the EMT workers reached the man, it was announced that he was dead. You could hear women gasping at the news. Men were quick to share stories of deaths they’ve witnessed in the past, like a badge of honor.
A man, old enough to be my uncle, told me that this wasn’t the first time he had watched someone suffer a heart attack on the train. “This is the second time, same thing. A woman right next to me,” he explained, before he imitated the two heart attack victims clutching their chests. “You never know who’s going to drop. You never know, you never know, papi.”
While the EMT personnel worked to bring the man back, a woman, shielded with a sky blue scarf and a black pea coat, sat motionless by a nearby bench on the platform, stunned by the experience. She didn’t know the man, but when the police arrived and asked everyone to leave, I’d soon find her outside of the subway station, conquered by the night’s events as she bawled her eyes out.
As is with life, everyone views and reacts differently to death. Me? I didn’t have an overpowering sense of anxiety, fear, sadness, distress, or paranoia. I didn’t find myself concerned or amused by this stranger’s death — I was indifferent. However, I’d be lying if I said I never thought about the possibility of being the one that had died on that train.
I never got the chance to fall asleep during that train ride. The drunken man, who had sat across from me, was too loud. Yet, that wasn’t enough to keep me awake. There was a strange sensation, like paranoia that bordered on intuition, which kept me from closing my eyes.
The Sandman didn’t walk through those subway cars on that late night train ride; it was Death. I know, because Death has always been known to usher in a somber mood.